FORT HOOD –– Accused mass murderer Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan said he plans to argue he was acting in "defense of others," that he was defending other people during the 2009 shooting massacre on post that left 13 dead and 32 injured. Hasan did not elaborate on whom he was defending.
"It's not going to work," said Ret. Lt. Col. Colby Volkey, a former lead defense attorney in the U.S. Marine Corps. "No one was in danger from immediate harm. If no one else was there then there's no one else he's defending."
Hasan, a devout Muslim who opposed the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, might say he was defending other followers of Islam, Volkey surmised.
Hasan also asked the judge, Col. Tara Osborn, for a three month delay in trial that is scheduled to begin on July 1.
A few hours earlier, Judge Osborn granted Hasan permission to represent himself at his criminal trial next month for the shooting deaths of 13 people and injuries to 32 others at this Army post in Nov. 2009.
Col. Osborn made the ruling after a two-hour hearing Monday morning from inside a heavily fortified courthouse guarded by armed soldiers. She later ordered Army officials to set up an office for Hasan by 3 p.m. this afternoon, as he dismissed his defense team.
Col. Osborn spent the morning questioning Hasan's knowledge of the seriousness of the crimes he's accused of.
"The lead prosecutor has over 20 years of criminal law and litigation experience, she said. How are you … going to know what to do?"
“I’m going to do the best I can do,” he responded.
"I’m assuming you’re aware of the charges against you. Why don’t you tell me what they are?" Col. Osborn stated.
“Multiple counts of premeditated murder,” Hasan, 42, said softly.
“How many?,” the judge replied.
“13,” Hasan said.
“All right. What else?,” Osborn asked.
“Uh, 32 counts of attempted premeditated murder,” Hasan added after a brief pause as he read the charges.
“All right so you’re aware of the charges against you. You understand those charges have been referred as capital offenses?,” Col. Osborn continued.
“Yes ma’am,” Hasan responded.
“What does that mean?,” the judge asked.
“Death penalty is possible,” he said.
“These are very complex and serious charges,” Col. Osborn said.
“Yes they are,” he added. “I do understand that.”
“Do you understand you’d be better off with a trained lawyer?” the judge asked.
“I understand the courts would view this as me waiving effective counsel,” he said.
“But when you’re representing yourself, many times you become personally involved in the case and it’s very difficult for you to have an objective view of the case. Basically what I’m telling you is the general rule of representing yourself is not a good policy,” the judge said.
“Would you like to talk to another lawyer about this case?,” Col. Osborn asked.
“Not at this point,” Maj. Hasan said.
“You cannot make any speeches and try to testify,” she added.
The judge again implored Hasan to rethink his request.
“I think it’s unwise for you to represent yourself and I’m strongly urging you to not represent yourself,” she said. “Do you still want represent yourself?”
“Yes ma’am,” he responded.
“Do you want counsel to remain at counsel table?” Col. Osborn asked.
“With the exception of Maj. Martin, yes,” Hasan said. He added that he didn’t want Maj. Christopher Martin on his military-appointed defense team anymore.
Survivors of the shooting have expressed anxiety about Hasan cross-examining them at trial.
“It’s a huge concern,” said Army Sgt. Alonzo Lunsford, now retired. “People are basically saying ‘how do they expect us to act?’”
“They need to think about the repercussions of him representing himself and what that might do to the victims and families of the deceased,” Sgt. Lunsford explained.
The former Army medic said Maj. Hasan shot him seven times, once in the head at close range and six times in his body. Blind now in his left eye, Sgt. Lunsford also lost half of his intestines while trying to recover from the 2009 attack.
“We’ve gone through major life changes,” he said. “He’s being treated like he’s the victim. What’s going to stop one of us from jumping across that table?”
Col. Osborn ordered Hasan to undergo a physical last week and had the doctor who performed it testify in court today.
“For a patient with the level of his spinal cord injury –– with no active medical complications going on –– he could sit up to four hours continuous,” the doctor said.
As long as he can relieve the pressure on his spinal cord with a stretch break every four hours, the doctor added then Hasan could sit up to 12 hours a day. Anything after that could result in fatigue, the doctor said.
Last week, Col. Osborn said a psychiatrist already determined Hasan to be mentally capable to defend himself.
He asked to ditch his military defense team and represent himself against 13 charges of murder and 32 counts of attempted murder after a mass shooting at the Soldier Readiness Processing Center on post in November 2009.
Hasan, a devout Muslim, was an Army psychiatrist who opposed the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and was weeks away from being deployed when he was accused of committing the mass murder.
Wearing a bushy black and gray beard, Hasan testified that he spends most of his time reading the Koran while confined to his cell at the Bell County Jail in nearby Belton.
Hasan told the judge he dresses himself in his Army uniform every morning before breakfast at 4:30 a.m.
“I use a handrail to pull myself up and I slide my legs over the side of the bed,” Hasan testified. “The wheelchair is next to my bed and I’m able to transfer to the wheelchair.”
“After getting dressed I begin my morning prayers,” he added.
Hasan said he reads the Koran for two hours in the morning.
“I fast quite frequently and skip lunch," he said.
Selection of a panel, known as a jury in the military justice system, begins Wednesday. Hasan’s trial is scheduled to start on July 1.